The Cat Who Ate Danish Modern (1967) is the 2nd installment of Lillian Jackson Braun’s charming mystery series.
The focus this time is on the world of Interior Decorating. Qwill’s new assignment is as editor of a Sunday supplement, Gracious Abodes, detailing houses and decor. Like the other 2 novels of the 1960s run, this follows the formula Braun has established.
And like the addition of Koko the Siamese cat from the 1st novel, Qwill adds Yum Yum to the duo to make a powerful trio that will sail through this fun series when it returns in the 1980s.
In this installment, the crime resolution is still a bit stiff. The following bit concerning the perusal of a diary that produces a clue illustrates:
But the color of the ink changed around from the first of September. For most of the year it had been blue. Then Noyton switched to black. Signe Tait’s phone number was written in black; it had been added within the last three weeks. (page 75)
But when it comes to details about the topic in the book, in this case interior decor, Braun shines, and that is what really matters to me as her reader:
The merchandise in the window was attractively arranged against a background of kitchen oilcloth in a pink kitten design. There were vases of ostrich plumes, chunks of broken concrete painted in phosphorescent colors, and bowls of eggs trimmed with sequins. The price tags were small and refined, befitting an exclusive shop… (page 87)
Finding a side panel of a cabinet later is a bit too sudden and tidy for use as she wraps up the mystery; the detail from a photo only stretches the verisimilitude of the result, but that is most forgivable as the other 80 percent of the novel delivers with style, interest, and furry coziness.
As mentioned before in this blog, I began out of order as I meant to read following publication date, but I am back on track now and ready to hop onto the next installation The Cat Who Saw Red — a return to the series almost twenty years later. The wait is well worth it as Braun hones her writing talents, along with sleuthing skills, and sustains them for the next 27 novels.
After re-reading Lillian Jackson Braun’s Cat Who… mystery from 1966 about the art world behind-the-scenes, I began to reminisce over Tom Wolfe’s send-up of the Modern Art scene in The Painted Word (1975).
Not a book so much as a long essay, Wolfe’s explanatory pseudo-tirade still holds up through the decades: how did the boho scene emerge, what was it all about — socially as well as artfully — how did it continue to unfold from visual experience unto a purely aesthetic mind-fuck?
Why did collectors embrace most of it?
Why is the Impressionistic movement from the late 1800s hardly revolutionary by such current standards?
The anti-establishment art aesthetic ideals discussed and argued over in the French cafes of the late 1800s — so aptly portrayed in Zola’s The Masterpiece (1886) and exhumed as of late in Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath (2013) — are nothing in comparison to what followed the good intentions of these artistic rebels. In the effort to freshen a viewer’s perspective from a pre-conceived palette of life experiences and well-worn opinions, Modern Art stripped away layer after layer of technique, leaving nothing recognizable in its wake without a verbal explanation.
From -ism to -ism, Wolfe takes us on a wild ride with the in-crowd of le tout monde and let’s us off in a prediction about art in the year 2000. I am not sure if Wolfe’s vision has any merit or not: I am certainly not part of that world, and I really don’t care about the fallout. 20th century art has always been cold to my vision despite being a hotbed of interesting ideals.
“… late twentieth-century Modern art was about to fulfill its destiny, which was: to become nothing less than Literature pure and simple.” (page 110)
The Painted Word fascinated me in the 1980s when I first read it, and it still fascinates me now. So much in his analysis has helped me cope with the void I find myself in when I attempt to enter the miasma of Modern Art.
Inspired that year of publication 1975, Joni Mitchell expressed her own intellectual/emotional love/hate relationship to the world coined by Wolfe as “the boho dance” in her song of the same name:
You read those books where luxury Comes as a guest to take a slave Books where artists in noble poverty Go like virgins to the grave Don’t you get sensitive on me ‘Cause I know you’re just too proud You couldn’t step outside the Boho dance now Even if good fortune allowed
Cultural aesthetics pervades a very incestuous crowd, but none more than in the art world — even now. It is alluring, it is subdividing, it is ego-savvy when one is accepted, it is literally death-defying when one is left out.
For the rest of us, it is a thrill to look into the scene without having to wipe our work boots.
By the way, my favorite word in this essay is fuliginous(sooty or dusty)!
My favorite quote used is from Lawrence Weiner in Arts Magazine (April 1970):
The artist may construct a piece.
The piece nay be fabricated
The piece must be built
Each being equal and consistent with the intent of the artist the decision as to condition rests with the receiver upon the occasion of receivership. (quoted by permission on page 111 of The Painted Word)
My favorite artwork (?) referred to in this essay is the one about toast (page 108) — Zippy would be seduced.
The first title in a long mystery series by Lillian Jackson Braun is The Cat Who Could Read Backwards (1966). It features the exploits of Jim Qwilleran, news reporter, and introduces his soon to be Holmes to his Watson — Kao K’0-Kung, a Siamese cat who ‘”…who was named after a thirteenth-century artist, and he himself has the dignity and grace of Chinese art.”‘ (page 72)
As mentioned in an earlier post, I have begun re-reading this series, in publication order this time although I got off to a false start with issue #3 — but I am back on track now with the initial first episode. This time, the focus is on Modern Art, the Art Market, and the Art Social World in the mid-60s. (It even stages a Happening in Chapter 11!) Really no different that it’s ever been, there are jealousies, double-crosses, and battle sides. (The Art Forger, a 2012 novel by B.A. Shapiro, is a fine update to this social sub-strata that never changes but remains ever engaging to/for the outsider of the art business world.)
In this novel, we meet Jim and Koko for the first time, of course, and how they paired up together: both have prescient whiskers, but Koko’s overrides Qwilleran’s famous and much talked about mustache bristles. Together, they will go far throughout this series that spans from 1966 all the way into the this millennium.
The next volume will introduce us to the third member of this trio: Yum-Yum, another Siamese. There will be a whole new topic to explore, the world of Interior Design, and we’ll learn much about what goes on behind the scenes, and we will continue our exposure to the uncanny ways and habits of the Siamese breed. Oh, yeah, and there’ll be another crime of some sort to solve.
SPOILER: In this story, O.Narx is really Scrano!!!
Jo, our good friend Jean, and myself attended this year’s edition of the Fine Art of Fiber at the Botanic Gardens. (click here for that site)
In relation to other years, we each felt this show was weak by comparison standards; nonetheless, there are always some knock-outs for our proclivity, as well as some ideas to try or store in our mental stashes.
Here are this years most memorable pictorial memories for me:
Just finished Stephen King’s latest novel “Doctor Sleep”, a sequel to “The Shining” from 30 years age. As a follow-up, I thoroughly enjoyed the update of “Where are they now…” Danny turns out to be an alkie like good old Dad; Dick Holloran is still alive; and ghosts from the past continue to haunt. Danny goes into AA and he works as an orderly where he helps the infirm elderly to slip into the next phase of existence — thus, his moniker of Doctor Sleep.
The terrifying entities in this volume are not vampires or zombies
(that’s all so last century)
but a different type who have been with us for thousands of years, who live off the fumes (steam) from their victims: children who are abducted and consumed since they are endowed with a strong shine.
(still, so, so very scary)
Nonetheless, if you have not read The Shining ever, you should not attempt this offering.
(also, do NOT rely upon the movie version — even King suggests that is not the way to go)
Character wise, there are a couple of new girls in town battling it all out in psychic park — young Abra, the white whale to old
(and I DO mean old)
Rose’s Ahab, leader of the TRUE KNOT group, a group of very scary oldsters in RVs touring the country.
(watch out AARP members, we’re on to you — OOPPS! I’m an AARP member, hmmmm…)
Otherwise, Doctor Sleep is thoroughly entertaining and a fast page turner. In the end, it all comes back full circle to The Overlook Hotel.
“This is fucked to sky, buddy.”
“Yes,” Dan said. “It certainly is. Our job is to unfuck it.” (page 347)
So much in so few words…Truly great King style. King is back to great form, and he has been for the last few years for my taste: Both 11/22/63 and Under the Dome
(not the inane television attempt)
are knock-outs, too. I feel them as very recommendable.
Until later, I have once again become a Constant Reader of Mr. King.
I knitted a few pigs three years ago, and they were so fetching, that two ladies I work with very much adored them. So I gave them as gifts to each of them, but not until I did this photo shoot story with them.
I have begun a re-read of Lillian Jackson Braun’s “The Cat Who…” mystery series. Having read them all before, but in no particular order; now, I now want to experience them in the order they were written and developed (although I have already messed up by starting with the 3rd title. After this, I will start with the first. Here is a Wikipedia link to the titles in publication order: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cat_Who…
So, here is the 1968 third offering of Jim Qwilleran with his feline sidekicks Koko and Yum Yum: The Cat Who Turned On and Off.
The first three books were written in the late 1960s, where Jim and the cats are just beginning to establish the structure of how these mysteries will flow; also, Jim’s previous life, recovery, and discovery of each cat is set up and explained in depth.
Each novel will give a brief subtle recap of Qwill and the cats’ habits and past. Like most good mysteries, the crime is much less important than the characters, and the characterization grows as it unfolds through each installment. As well, each novel has at least one cultural theme it will explore (usually with several other subtopics.)
This volume is all about the hidden side of the antique trade, located in Junktown, the seemingly seamy part of town, with all of its odd characters, petty jealousies, and undermining interactions. Of special interest to me were the Three Weird Sisters who owned the Three Weird Sisters antique store – very vibrant women and strangely alluring.
Braun ‘s books are rarely sketchy when covering side topics. That is their strengths for my reading tastes. At one point, the reader not only learns how varnishing techniques are done, but also how they can express a crime scene clue (page 210.)
In this particular novel, Braun gives a heart and depth to Junktown that would make Jane Jacobs smile. Here is an except regarding the developers who want to take over and raze this quite quaint district under the guise of gentrification, in reality just a real estate land grab:
“…You see, no one thinks of Junktown as a community of living people — merely a column of statistics. If they would ring doorbells, they would find respectable foreign families, old couples with no desire to move to the suburbs, small businessmen like Mr. Lombardo — all nationalities, all races, all ages, all types — including a certain trashy element that does no harm. That’s the way a city should be — one big hearty stew. But politicians have an á la carte mentality. They refuse to mix the onions and carrots with the tenderloin tips. (page 111)
We learn how Junktowns all over are the saviors and preservers of the past, despite their moral qualms. (While a lofty enterprise, how they acquire and how they sell is really just as opportunistic as the real estate developers’ machinations when all is said and done.)
Koko’s discovery and clues about the culprit in this crime is a bit too thin for me (or even if you think that it is Qwill, instead, who solves the crime here.) But this part of the series’ formula gets much better when Braun brings it back in the mid-80s and forward. In the first three outings, it seems too cute and too clever for believability.
Each installment is like candy to me; I just eat each one up. A Cat Who… mystery, an afghan, and a cup of coffee are just the offerings that can give me a warm, cozy feeling on a cold winter’s night. All that is physically missing are a cat, or two. I look forward to re-visiting my Moosewood county friends throughout the next five months.
After this volume, Braun took a hiatus until the 80s when the series really took off as Qwill inherited a fortune, moved with the cats to a quaint town 400 miles north if everywhere, and discovered that crimes occur everywhere: murders, swindles, cross-lovers.
How Qwill uses his funds as a philanthropist is as enduring as his off again, but mostly on again, relationship with the town librarian Polly.
And now, on to episode 1 of The Cat Who.. series, read in order from now on: The Cat Who Could Read Backwards (1966) about the world of modern art… (although I am concurrently being distracted by several other titles, most notably Stephen King’s latest Doctor Sleep, a follow-up to The Shining — but more about that later…)